Tom was a senior official of the USW (International Vice President) leading on steel and the rubber industry when I first met him as a USW member of the board of the Unite/USW/Los Minero’s independent global trade union Workers Uniting.
He took over the Presidency of the USW from his great friend Leo Gerard, both veterans of many battles in the US and Canadian steel and manufacturing industry, and both committed to making the USW a union not only for steelworkers, chemicals and manufacturing workers in the USA and Canada but a wide raging membership across both countries including workers in healthcare, pro sports, education and other areas of the economy.
Tom was a tough negotiator and a wise councillor. He knew about global and US manufacturing inside out; he knew about trade and its importance to working people; he knew about US politics – when the lunatics attempted to stop the election of Biden and attacked the White House he told me that it was “heartbreaking what is happening this this country”.
Tom was an internationalist, a comrade and a friend to working people everywhere.
Below is the USW’s tribute issued on September 25th – there will be many more not doubt from his friends and comrades throughout the world.
It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of International President Tom Conway at age 71.
Elected as the union’s president in 2019, Conway was known for his quick wit, formidable bargaining skills and unwavering devotion to workers and their families.
“From his earliest time making steel to his steady hand leading us through the darkest days of the pandemic, Tom followed two simple guiding principles: the dignity of work and the power of working people,” said David R. McCall, the USW’s International Vice President of Administration. “Tom was never afraid of a fight, and thanks to his ingenuity and determination, generations of workers can enjoy better jobs and brighter futures.”
Conway relished going toe to toe with top leaders of some of the biggest corporations where USW members work, and over the course of his career, he became one of the union’s most accomplished contract negotiators in steel, aluminum, oil and other major industries, often directing bargaining during crises.
As president, he also spearheaded innovative initiatives to organise more workers into the labor movement, extending the benefits of union representation to workers in a variety of fields from manufacturing to higher education. Under Conway’s leadership, USW members gained some of the movement’s most significant organising victories.
“Solidarity wasn’t just a word to Tom; it was a way of life,” said USW International Secretary-Treasurer John Shinn. “He understood that by working together, we will balance the scales against greedy corporations and the billionaire class.”
During his time in office, Conway relentlessly advocated for fair trade, demanding that the government enforce trade laws to prevent importation of illegally subsidized and dumped products that damage domestic industries and destroy good-paying jobs.
At the same time, Conway worked not just to save jobs but to create them, finding new ways to engage both companies and elected officials to expand manufacturing, secure domestic supply chains and invest in healthy, flourishing communities.
Conway first became an activist in USW Local 6787 in 1978 when he went to work at the Burns Harbor Works of Bethlehem Steel. While working as a millwright in the coke plant, Conway served as a griever for plant-wide maintenance and was a member of the safety and contracting-out committees. He joined the union’s International staff in 1987 and was elected as USW International Vice President in 2005.
“We will all miss Tom’s passion, his integrity, his gift for strategy and not least of all, his sense of humor,” said McCall. “His time as USW president was too short, but it’s clear he will leave an indelible impact on our union and beyond.”